Civil Constitution of the Clergy



The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was enacted on July 12, 1790 by the National Assembly during the height of the French Revolution. It declared that the Church, including on-Roman Catholics, in France be subservient to the state and mandated a massive reorganization of the Church structure (1). It fundamentally altered the internal structure of the Catholic Church in France and the relationship between Church and State. Most supporters were revolutionaries and most who refused it were Catholics. About half the lower clergy and seven bishops took the oath of allegiance to the Constitution that was required by the National Assembly for them to perform their functions and draw their salary. Provision XXI in Title II required an oath to be taken at a bishop's ceremony of consecration. Although Louis XVI eventually consented to the constitution, he and Pope Pius VI were originally against it. In April of 1791, the Pope condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Although many Catholic clerics and lay people supported the Act and the revolutionary government, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy succeeded in alienating many French people from the revolution and led many to support the counter-revolution. Religious conflict did not end in France until Napoleon's Concordat of 1801 (3).
National Assembly, August 4, 1789 (5)
National Assembly, August 4, 1789 (5)
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy is still thought of as the main event that initiated the ending of the French Revolution (16).

Contents:

I. Status of the Church in France before the Civil ConstitutionII. Motivation of the Civil Constitution
III. Debate over the Civil Constitution
IV. Legal status of the Church in France under the Civil Constitution
V. Jurors and non-jurors
VI. Repeal of the Civil Constitution
VII. External links
VIII. References

I. Status of the Church in France before the Civil Constitution



Prior to the Civil Constitution, the clergy was the target of much criticism under the Old Regime, and they enjoyed extensive social privileges and property rights (4). While the French government was close to declaring bankruptcy, the church officials were among the most wealthy people. Also, "many of the educated classes regarded the church as the opponent of enlightened change" (10). Recently, France had just undergone a revolution that brought the National Assembly to power. In order to decentralize the government, the National Assembly created 83 newly named departments, replaced the old unequal system of taxation with uniform taxes on land and profits, and (to the dismay of the clergy) took the judicial system out of the hands of the nobility and clergy (9).

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II. Motivation of the Civil Constitution



The most important motivation for the Civil Constitution was its positive financial impact on France and the belief that the Catholic Church was to blame for France's debts. France's financial problems from the previous years continued to drown the state in debt. Simply annihilating all previous internal debts, as the peasants did during the Great Fear, was out of the question for the National assembly because much of the debts were owed to the bourgeoisie, who made up most of the National Assembly (9). The National Assembly assumed the Old Regime's debts, but tax collection was slowed by the people's refusals to pay. Paper money, called assignats, was issued by the assembly to cover its personal costs. To repay the bonds, the assembly confiscated and sold church lands. The French government justified their actions by responding, "church property [belongs] to the nation." (4) The Revolutionaries wanted to establish an independant French Church as well to lessen the ties between Catholicism and the Government (16). Many Catholics were optimistic about these reforms, as they believed the reforms "would liberate the clergy to fulfill the Church's historic ideals." (6)

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III. Debate over the Civil Constitution



Fifty four percent of the bishops (the refractory clergy) and priests of the Catholic Church argued against the oath given to them by the National Assembly. The people opposed to the Civil Constitution believed that it was just a product of the revolutionaries of the time dedicated to the annihilation of the Church, and that the oath threatened to destroy all of Catholicism in France (16). Maultrot was a strong opposer of the Civil Constitution, and actively debated on whether the oath should have been allowed (16). The Pope condemned the constitution and the oath that ecclesiastics had to take in 1791, calling the oath of allegiance "the poisoned fountainhead and source of all errors". The clergy argued that the National Church Council or the Pope must negotiate with the National Assembly before they would agree to sign it (6). The National Assembly responded to the clergy by asserting itself as the sovereign power, whose right it is to order this reform because it concerned matters of the state, not the church. Armand-Gaston Camus was one of the main defenders of the Civil Constitution, and attempted to promote his opinions on the causes of the revolution along with gathering followers in support of the oath by handing out pamphlets and supporting local newspapers (16).

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IV. Legal status of the Church in France under the Civil Constitution



Under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the government provided one diocese for each civil department. The position of bishop and the pastors were elected posts, and those elected did not need to be Catholic. (10) An oath of November 1790 to the Civil Constitution read, "I swear to be faithful to the nation, to the law and the king, and to maintain with all my power the Constitution determined by the National Assembly and accepted by the king," (15).

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V. Jurors and non-jurors



The oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was required of all eccleseastics, of which only 7 of 160 bishops took (15). When a large percentage of the clergy refused to take the special oath, the National Assembly changed the oath to a general oath of allegiance for all public officials to take. Priests who did not take this oath, called "non-jurors", lost their pensions and were placed under surveillance. Both constitutional and non-juring priests were able to continue excercising their functions for som time, as the non-jurors were not removed from their posts immediatly (15). However, by "neatly balancing mitigation with severity," the government did prevent them from privately using the churches. Louis XVI vetoed the decree, but it was made law in 42 departments by public opinion. The public also prohibited non-jurors from using the churches entirely (8).

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VI. Repeal of the Civil Constitution



The Civil Constitution stayed effective,"until the '2nd sans-culottide', Year II (September 18, 1794), [when] the Civil Constitution was implicitly abolished, and the separation of church and state consummated," (2). Even then there was still a large schism between church and state however. This stayed until 1801, when Napolean Bonaparte, in an act of unification, made peace with the pope with a Concordat (formal agreement), ending the ten-year struggle between the Roman Catholics and state (9). The Concordat made Catholicism the official religion of France, while ensuring freedom to protestants and bringing new rights to Jews. However, the clergy were still required to take an oath of allegiance to the state, and church property was never returned.

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VII. External links




Important Quotes from the Civil Constitution of the Clergy:

"Each department shall form a single diocese, and each diocese shall have the same extent and the same limits as the department." (1)

"All other bishoprics in the eighty-three departments of the kingdom, which are not included by name in the present article, are, and forever shall be, abolished" (1)

"A new arrangement and division of all the parishes of the kingdom shall be undertaken immediately in concert with the bishop and the district administration." (1)

"Beginning with the day of publication of the present decree, there shall be but one mode of choosing bishops and parish priests, namely that of election." (1)

"All elections shall be by ballot and shall be decided by the absolute majority of the votes." (1)

"Before the ceremony of consecration begins, the bishop elect shall take a solemn oath, in the presence of the municipal officers, of the people, and of the clergy, to guard with care the faithful of his diocese who are confided to him, to be loyal to the nation, the law, and the king, and to support with all his power the constitution decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by the king." (1)

"Every bishop, priest, and officiating clergyman in a chapel of ease shall be furnished with a suitable dwelling, on condition, however, that the occupant shall make all the necessary current repairs. This shall not affect at present, in any way, those parishes where the priest now receives a money equivalent instead of his dwelling. The departments shall, moreover, have cognizance of suits arising in this connection, brought by the parishes and by the priests. Salaries shall be assigned to each, as indicated below." (1)

"Bishops, parish priests, and curates may, as active citizens, be present at the primary and electoral assemblies; they may be chosen electors, or as deputies to the legislative body, or as members of the general council of the communes or of the administrative councils of their districts or departments." (1)

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VIII. References



1."Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790)." World History:The Modern Era. 28 Nov. 2007 http://www.worldhistory.abc-clio.com/library/searches/searchdisplay.aspx?entryid=308816&fulltext=civil+constitution+of+the+clergy&nav=non&specialtopicid=-1
2. Lefebvre, George. The French Revolution. Trans. John H. Stewart and James Friguglietti. Vol. II. New York: Columbia UP, 1964. 275-276.
3. http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111civil.html
4. "French Revolution." MSN Encarta Premium. 2007. 28 Nov. 2007 http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557826_3/French_Revolution.html#p49.
5. Boulat, Pierre. National Assembly, August 4, 1789. MSN Encarta Premium. 30 Nov. 2007. http://encarta.msn.com/media_81576683_761557826_-1_1/National_Assembly_August_4_1789.html
6. "The French Revolution II." 30 Nov. 2007 http://mars.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/rev892.html.
7. "The Civil Constitution of the Clergy." Hanover Historical Texts Project . 2 Dec. 2007 http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111civil.html
8. Lenardon, Joan. "The Civil Constitution of the Clergy." St. Peter's Seminary, London, Ontario. 2 Dec. 2007 http://www.umanitoba.ca/colleges/st_pauls/ccha/Back%20Issues/CCHA1972/Lenardon.html
9. Sherman, Dennis and Joyce Salisbury. The West in the World. New York: McGraw-Hill Primis, 2006.
10. "The September Massacres in Paris and Versailles." Vincentian Encyclopedia. 4 May 2007. 4 Dec. 2007 http://www.famvin.org/wiki/The_September_Massacres_in_Paris_and_Versailles
11. Lefebvre, Georges. The French Revolution. Trans. Elizabeth M. Evanson. Vol. I. New York: Columbia UP, 1962.
12. Kennedy, Emmet. A Cultural History of the French Revolution. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1989.
13. Bosher, J. F. The French Revolution. 1st ed. Ontario: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.
14. Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP Inc., 2002.
15. Southgate, George W. A Text Book of Modern European History 1789-1938. London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1944.
16. Miller, David C. "A. -G Camus and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy." Catholic Historical Review 76 (1990): 1-19. EBSCOhost. Derryfield School.


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